Libba Bray's secret underground lair, from which one day she plans to rule the universe, is, interestingly enough an exact replica of her living room in Brooklyn. Although the fact that it contains the world's most uncomfortable couch may be her downfall. As she told BookPage while sitting on that couch, "It's hard to be an Evil Author Overlordâ„˘ with an aching back."
Fans of Bray's best-selling Gemma Doyle trilogy (beginning with A Great and Terrible Beauty) who have sought out her stories in anthologies such as The Restless Dead and 21 Proms will be familiar with her manner of pulling humor out of the darkest corners of life. Now in her tremendously original and compulsively readable picaresque Going Bovine, Bray goes all-out to explore her inner weird and has produced a provocative road novel for the 21st century.
Readers of the Gemma Doyle books may wonder if this is the same author. Bray says it should actually be the other way around: when she wrote the Gemma Doyle books her "close friends were thrown for a loop. They expected a Going Bovine-type book, not gothic historical fantasy."
Going Bovine was sparked by a story Bray's mother told her. "A man in our hometown had been diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease, the human variant of mad cow disease. During his deterioration, he suffered from horrifying hallucinations, including one in which he would see flames shooting up into his field of vision." Bray was fascinated by the idea of not being able to trust your reality.
That idea of not knowing what's real and what's not eventually grew into Going Bovine, in which 16-year-old Cameron discovers he has mad cow disease and is horrified to find it is a death sentence. Cameron's vision quest across the country in search of a cure begins when he realizes how much of his life he has missed by just letting it pass by. This "temptation to drift off into solipsism" was what Bray wanted to investigate in Going Bovine.
Bray had no trouble getting into Cameron's teenage male headspace. Growing up, she had a backstage pass into the Y-chromosome experience--many of her close friends were male and she was spared nothing by her brother, Stuart. She proudly declares that many of her female friends have pointed out she is a teen boy at heart. Further proving her point, Bray says, "I realized while writing this that the characters I identified with most as a teen/young adult were all male--Holden Caulfield, Jimmy from Quadrophenia, Harold in Harold & Maude. All the poster boys for the vulnerable, disillusioned and sex-and-death obsessed."
Even though Bray immersed herself in pop culture as she wrote the book--her list of influences includes The Flaming Lips, Ray LaMontagne, The Shins, Gnarls Barkley, Sufjan Stevens, Thomas Pynchon, George Saunders, Julian Barbour, Kurt Vonnegut, Don Quixote, Ovid, Norse mythology, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz and even "the way midnight movies make you feel when you are 17"--she uses imaginary names for the bands and brands her characters talk about so that the book wouldn't be dated. These imaginary people and products, such as Rad Soda, notch up the absurdity and surrealism quotient and allow Bray to slide in a little commentary on rampant consumerism, reality TV and branding. "And," she noted, "it's really fun to make stuff up."
But the real question is, does she still eat hamburgers? "Occasionally. But now I hear a ticking time bomb of death with every bite. Honestly, if you want to scoot toward vegetarianism, just research mad cow disease."
For the next little while she'll be concentrating on Tiger Beat, a band comprised of YA authors--Natalie Standiford on bass, Daniel Ehrenhaft on guitar, Barney Miller on drums and vocals and Bray on vocals and drums (her tambourine skills are really improving). They have a gig with Frank Portman and the Mr. T Experience at Sidewalk Café in New York City on September 20 and are hoping to do more later in the fall.
As for future writing projects, Bray says, "I just want to write what I want to write when I wants to write it." Her work-in-progress is once again very different from her previous work (although it too sounds like a un-put-down-able read). She describes it as "a satire about a group of teen beauty queens whose plane crashes on a deserted island. Sort of Lord of the Flies as channeled by P.J. O'Rourke and [National Lampoom writer] Doug Kenney."
Gavin J. Grant is the publisher of Small Beer Press. He does not eat hamburgers.
Read an exerpt of Going Bovine on the book's website.
Watch Tiger Beat perform Janis Joplin's "Down on Me."
And don't miss the hilarious trailer for the book.Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
In a departure from her Victorian-era trilogy for teens, Libba Bray dishes out a multi-layered dark comedy in her latest book, Going Bovine. Sixteen-year-old Cameron Smith, a self-absorbed slacker from Texas, is dying from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human variant of Mad Cow.
Doctors donâ€™t give Cameron much time, but Dulcie, a punk angel with pink hair, explains that the prions attacking his brain are from dark energy released by Dr. X. While parallel world-hopping, this mad scientist opened a wormhole, allowing dark energy to penetrate Earth. If Cameron can track down Dr. X, heâ€™ll not only find a cure for his Mad Cow, but also save the planet in the process.
Cameron sets out on a farcical road trip to Daytona Beach, where Dr. X may be hiding. With help from his hospital roommate (an anxious, hypochondriac Little Person named Paul Henry â€śGonzoâ€ť Gonzales), guidance from Dulcie and messages from tabloids, the pair tackles a series of hilarious, Don Quixote-like battles.
During the journey, Cameron begins to appreciate his parents, reconnect with his near-perfect sister and most importantly, learn about himself and how to trust, loveâ€”and live. While enjoying the hijinks, readers will have to decide whether Cameronâ€™s escapades are really happening or merely the result of his deteriorating spongy brain, an element that adds to the madcap fun.Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Cameron Smith, 16, is slumming through high school, overshadowed by a sister "pre-majoring in perfection," while working (ineptly) at the Buddha Burger. Then something happens to make him the focus of his family's attention: he contracts mad cow disease. What takes place after he is hospitalized is either that a gorgeous angel persuades him to search for a cure that will also save the world, or that he has a vivid hallucination brought on by the disease. Either way, what readers have is an absurdist comedy in which Cameron, Gonzo (a neurotic dwarf) and Balder (a Norse god cursed to appear as a yard gnome) go on a quixotic road trip during which they learn about string theory, wormholes and true love en route to Disney World. Bray's surreal humor may surprise fans of her historical fantasies about Gemma Doyle, as she trains her satirical eye on modern education, American materialism and religious cults (the smoothie-drinking members of the Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl). Offer this to fans of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seeking more inspired lunacy. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)[Page 46]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Gr 8 Up--In this ambitious novel, Cameron, a 16-year-old slacker whose somewhat dysfunctional family has just about given up on him, as perhaps he himself has, when his diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jacob, "mad cow" disease, reunites them, if too late. The heart of the story, though, is a hallucinatory--or is it?--quest with many parallels to the hopeless but inspirational efforts of Don Quixote, about whom Cameron had been reading before his illness. Just like the crazy--or was he?--Spaniard, Cam is motivated to go on a journey by a sort of Dulcinea. His pink-haired, white-winged version goes by Dulcie and leads him to take up arms against the Dark Wizard and fire giants that attack him intermittently, and to find a missing Dr. X, who can both help save the world and cure him. Cameron's Sancho is a Mexican-American dwarf, game-master hypochondriac he met in the pot smokers' bathroom at school who later turns up as his hospital roommate. Bray blends in a hearty dose of satire on the road trip as Cameron leaves his Texas deathbed--or does he?--to battle evil forces with a legendary jazz horn player, to escape the evil clutches of a happiness cult, to experiment with cloistered scientists trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, and to save a yard gnome embodying a Viking god from the clutches of the materialistic, fame-obsessed MTV-culture clones who shun individual thought. It's a trip worth taking, though meandering and message-driven at times. Some teens may check out before Cameron makes it to his final destination, but many will enjoy asking themselves the questions both deep and shallow that pop up along the way.--Suzanne Gordon, Peachtree Ridge High School, Suwanee, GA[Page 151]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.